While there are an endless variety of external batteries on the market capable of charging iOS devices while on the go, two recent entrants at the higher end of the market are giving consumers more options as they consider holiday gifts.
The first is Elgato's Smart Power, a 6,000 mAh external battery priced at $99.95. Housed in a compact plastic enclosure that is slightly smaller than and roughly as thick as an Apple TV, Smart Power's key feature is app integration on iOS that allows users to wirelessly monitor charge level of the battery and initiate pinging sounds by the Smart Power unit to help locate it in the house.
Notifications are also an important part of the app integration, with users able to receive push notifications when the battery has been recharged or is running low. Users can also set a specific time for automatic daily power level checks and receive reminder notifications if the charge level is below a user-defined threshold. Finally, users can grant the app access to their Calendar apps, allowing Smart Power to automatically remind users to take the device with them on busy days.
Offering adaptive charging at up to 2.4 amps and 12 watts, Smart Power can quickly deliver charge to high-capacity devices such as iPads. The device includes an integrated USB connector on a short cable for recharging, but requires a separate cable connecting to a USB port to connect to the device, so users will need to make sure they have one with them when traveling with Smart Power. For those who prefer to quickly check battery level without opening the iOS app, Smart Power also includes battery level lights on the unit itself.
Smart Power worked well in our testing, recharging itself and charging devices at a reasonable rate while the notifications and app integration proved very handy for monitoring battery status. The size and shape of the Smart Power made it easy to slip into a bag for traveling, but carrying it in a pocket is a bit more touch-and-go. While the battery is roughly the same width as an iPhone 6 Plus in a thin case (and substantially shorter obviously), the thickness of the device makes it somewhat uncomfortable unless relatively loose-fitting pants are worn. And with a separate Lightning cable also needed, the Smart Power is undoubtedly best suited for carrying in a bag.
A second recent addition to the high-end external battery market is Mophie's Powerstation Plus, which was introduced a few weeks ago in a range of capacities. While Powerstation Plus lacks the handy app integration of the Elgato Smart Power, the multiple capacities and high-quality aluminum covers with hideaway cable management may be appealing to some users, although some may be hesitant to put the aluminum edges in close proximity to their devices.
The smallest Powerstation Plus, known as 2X, is roughly the size of a deck of playing cards and offers 3,000 mAh of charge for $79.95. A thicker 5,000 mAh 3X model is also available for $99.95, and coming soon are even higher capacity models including a 7,000 mAh 4X model for $119.95 and a 12,000 mAh 8X model for $149.95. While substantially larger in size than their smaller siblings, the 4X and 8X models include an additional USB port for charging multiple devices simultaneously.
One significant advantage for the Powerstation Plus over Elgato's Smart Power is an integrated device cable, a short Lightning cable that makes it easy to charge devices on the go without worrying about having a separate cable or getting a longer one tangled. Micro-USB versions will also be available for non-Apple devices, but those do not begin shipping until December 17 and only then with the 2X and 3X variants.
As with the Elgato Smart Power, Mophie's Powerstation Plus offers 2.4-amp adaptive charging and button-activated lighted charge level indicators. And with pass-through priority charging, users can connect the Powerstation Plus and an iOS device in series to a USB port or charging adapter, with the Powerstation Plus allowing the iOS device to fully charge first before charging its own power pack.
In our hands-on time with the 2X Powerstation Plus, we found it quite convenient to charge an iPhone while holding both devices in one hand for those times when an extra charge is needed while using the phone on the go. The compact design with hideaway cables is very nice for sticking in a pocket or bag, although at only half the capacity of Elgato's Smart Power, it is unsurprising the Powerstation Plus 2X is less bulky. We do have concerns about the metal covers potentially scratching other items, so it seems best to carry it alone in a pocket or a separate bag compartment unless kept with other non-scratchable items.
The Elgato Smart Power and Mophie Powerstation Plus do not come cheap, but with some good features and well-known brands behind them, they will undoubtedly be popular options with consumers.